Jesus’ World

A short essay I wrote for an undergraduate class called “Jesus the Jew” about a year ago.


Understanding who Jesus was is dependent on understanding the social context he was born into. What were the problems the Jewish people faced? What was the religious composition of the country? Was Jesus unique? Or were there others like him? After decades of Roman occupation, would Jesus’ message have been viewed favorably by his contemporaries?

When Jesus was born, Judea was occupied by the Romans. The invasion of the Romans was the last of many such occupations of Jewish lands by foreign powers that gradually diminished Jewish territorial control and sovereignty. Rome’s involvement with Judea began as an opportunistic intervention into a struggle over succession between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. Pompey the Great, a Roman proconsul, backed Hyrcanus and restored him to the throne because he believed that Hyrcanus would be more likely to comply with Roman desires. The illusion of self-rule came to an end in 6 CE, when Judea was incorporated into the Roman empire as the province of Iudea and placed under direct Roman rule. By the time Jesus was born, there was widespread belief that the appearance of a messiah who would destroy the Romans and restore Jewish sovereignty was imminent. There were, in fact, many people wandering the desert claiming to be just such a person, and most of them were crucified by the Roman government.

Contemporary Jewish religion was very diverse, from established denominations to temporary movements built around charismatic individuals. The vast majority of the Jewish people were what today might be called mainstream practitioners. They were not heavily invested in the finer points of theology, but rather followed tradition and relied on instruction from those in their community with religious authority. This figure was usually a Pharisee. In contrast to the Sadducees, a group of priests who performed the required sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, the Pharisees were accessible to the people. Sadducees were educated, but status as a Sadducee was inherited and could only be inherited. Pharisees were also educated, but could be anyone: your neighbor, your son, or your uncle, and they lived nearby and could answer your questions. Another popular denomination was the Essene community, which lived a celibate and missionary lifestyle. There were also Zealots, or Fourth Philosophy groups, and groups like the one at Qumran, which may have produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were also charismatic individuals, typically wandering the country or living in the desert. They usually inspired followers or students, like Bannus, a hermit that Josephus sought wisdom from, and John the Baptist. There was no sense of normative Judaism. Jewish religion covered a broad spectrum of beliefs centered on the acceptance of the Hebrew Bible as scripture.

Jesus, as a man that preached a messianic message about the imminent establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, would not likely have been a surprise to his contemporaries, since he was but one of many such men traveling the country preaching a similar message. He also would not have been seen as a heretic, necessarily. Years later, Josephus defended the Christians because they were viewed as another group of Jews. There is no contemporary record of Jesus’ life, so it is impossible to know for sure how he was received, but he would have been seen as acting within the limits of Jewishness and, chafing under Roman rule, a message that advocated the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty probably would have been welcomed by the average person, or at least not a surprise.

National Night Out (Against Crime) 2011

Well, it happened yesterday so this isn’t so much a post about looking forward to observing it as it is about, “Oh look. Llamas and donkeys. Why are those in Campos Plaza?”

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

Farm animals in New York City.

This immediately reminded me of a joke I heard about Singaporeans.  A teacher (in Singapore, with Singaporean students) asks her young students (think, 8 years old) to draw pictures of farm animals.  So, the students happily sit around drawing for awhile and then present their work to the teacher.  One boy walks up and proudly shows her his drawing of a chicken, and it looks really good, except the chicken he draws has no feathers on it.  She asks him why he drew the chicken without feathers, and he asks, “Chickens have feathers?”

This is funny, but I completely understand the reality behind the joke.  In a place like Singapore, which is highly metropolitan, it would be very rare for kids to see any chickens other than the plucked and cooked ones hanging on hooks at the hawker centers.  Even when I lived in Georgia, I would get excited at seeing horses or cows or other farm animals.

A hawker center in Tampines, Singapore.

Anyway, when I was heading home yesterday, I smelled animals and I saw a lot of people in the square between a set of buildings so I went to investigate and these guys in the photos above were the first thing that pulled my attention.  It was fun!

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I didn’t investigate all of the booths, but the one to the right in the second picture above had face painting, which is why the line was so long.  I imagine the table on the left in the above picture had something to do with distributing literature regarding crime prevention, since it was manned by NYPD officers.

US Army Recruiters at National Night Out Against Crime 2011, New York City.

I was, of course, drawn to the set up in the photo above.  I was curious to see what the recruiters were up to, having been in the Army myself.  I wound up spending about half an hour chatting with Sergeant First Class Chen.  He’s a pretty nice guy.  We traded a few stories.  I told him about my time in service and he talked mostly about the benefits and stability of joining the Army Reserves after leaving Active Duty, but that’s his job after all.  We did talk a bit about some of the things that make you say, ‘WTF?’ while you’re in service.  It was nice to reminisce for a while, about the time I spent in the military.  It wasn’t all good, but it definitely wasn’t all bad either.

It was a pretty nice event overall, and it was good to see something positive taking place in the square for a change.  The area is known for violence and drug related shootings.  Ironically, the ‘Night Out Against Crime’ booths started shutting down and wrapping up as the sun set.

My First FarmVille Card

A $10 FarmVille card.

Oh yes, I’m serious.  I didn’t buy this.  It was given to me as a gift.  I did certainly use it though.

You see, I’m in Georgia right now visiting relatives and I’m staying at my aunt’s house.  My mother, aunt and aunt’s mother are all FarmVille addicts.  After a few nights of laying around just surfing the net as usual, I got caught up in their constant chatter about the game.  I used to play FarmVille, over a year ago, but gave up on it as too boring.

There have apparently been some big changes since then, including bakeries, wineries and spas, as well as cooperative crop growing with benefits, all of which have done nothing but make the game far more social, and in a way, more obligatory.  It locks people in and makes them feel like they’re required to keep playing for their friends’ sakes.  It makes good sense, from a business perspective.  It snagged my attention because I used to really enjoy crafting (weird, but I did) in MMOs like UO, DAoC, FFXI and WoW.  Before I knew it I was loading up the game to see what they were talking about.

While I was overseas I heard a lot about how FarmVille was taking off, and how people were dropping real cash on FarmVille items via these cards.  I laughed it off, but now here I am with FarmVille running in full swing and 110 Farm Cash (about 20 real dollars) worth the virtual currency loaded into the thing.  Granted, I haven’t put any of my own money into it…yet.  My mom and aunt seem to think of it as an investment towards their further enjoyment of the game, but I’m probably going to be hard pressed not to grab one of these off a shelf myself sometime in the near future, after checking to make sure no one is looking first of course.

It’s oddly addictive, and yet pleasantly casual with no massive demands on my time.  Well, not too much anyway.  And what’s even more odd is that more real cash has gone into my game during the last week than I ever put out for any mainstream MMO monthly subscription.  Zynga really does have a cash cow on its hands here.

Now, whether I continue to keep up with FarmVille after I get back to NYC and start working again is up for debate, but for now… I have to go check on my grapes.

Typical Treatment of Family Members Returning From Overseas

I’m sure not every American’s experience is the same, but when I go home to visit family, events usually play out in pretty much the same fashion.  I’m sure most people would recognize this as their typical experience as well.  You call ahead to let them know you’re coming home.  When you arrive, you can see that the house has been cleaned.  Your family will welcome you and tell you to go ahead and get comfortable.  A room and bed have been prepared for your arrival and after you put away your luggage you get something to drink, maybe something to eat, and then you join your relatives in the den (or living room) to trade stories and talk about whatever interests you.  Typically you’re treated to dinner, maybe even more than once depending on how many family members live in the area.

Well, that’s about how it goes for me.  I know from lots of experience.  I spent quite a few years away from home while in the Army and I’m away from home now.  Before that, when I was still a kid, my dad was in the military as well.  So, coming home for visits is something I’ve been doing all of my life.  It’s always an exciting time, when I can look forward to getting some good quality rest and relaxation.  In other words, when you come home to visit, the visit is all about you and making you welcome and comfortable.  Your family wants to make sure you enjoy your stay.

Before I go on, I want to say that what follows isn’t necessarily my experience.  This is just a typical behavior for Filipinos.  I count myself lucky.  I have a great set of in-laws.  One of my brother-in-laws even flew up from the southern islands to spend a little time with me before we left on a previous trip.

A common habit of Filipinos, when greeting a returning family member, especially one that comes from abroad is almost completely opposite that of the American way of doing things.  Where the American return home is all about making the visitor comfortable, the Filipino return home is all about making the family comfortable.  Like I said, this is most often the case when that family member is returning from an overseas location where they’ve been living.

Upon arrival, there may be a place set up for that family member to sleep.  However, the responsibility of filling the fridge will fall on the guest.  Depending on the length of stay, other financial burdens may be placed on the guest, such as utility bills.  Beyond this, the family will expect hand-outs, usually in the form of cash or gifts, from the guest.  In the local language, Tagalog, it’s called ‘pasalubong’, a gift given when returning home.  It doesn’t just apply to this situation though.  It’s often the case that parents will bring home a snack or candy for children when returning from work.  That counts too, but in this case the pasalubong is more of an expectation than a gift.  If that expectation isn’t met, tension is immediately created.  If the guest doesn’t step up to cover bills or other expenses, such as purchasing new household items, then family members immediately assume that the guest is stingy and is holding out on them.  This is because Filipinos almost all believe that if a person is overseas then they’re living the good life and have plenty of money to burn.  Those of us that live in those other countries, Filipino migrant workers, or those that have traveled extensively likely know otherwise, but that is a common misconception in the Philippines.  Also, the poorer the family, the more they expect from their returning relative.

This habit of sponging off of returning overseas workers isn’t restricted to family members.  There are people who will make it a point to call up friends who have returned from overseas, to ‘catch up’, and will then impose on that friend to treat them to lunch at an expensive restaurant.  This isn’t just a guess.  I’ve heard first-hand accounts of this happening from various people, as well as second-hand accounts.

The result of this is a lot of hard feelings between family members and returning visitors.  Returning family members may feel unduly put upon, especially if their salary overseas is just enough to keep them living a moderate lifestyle while putting a bit in the bank to invest in their own future.  Family members on the other hand, due to ignorance, may wind up feeling snubbed or abandoned.

As a consequence, I’ve heard of quite a few Filipinos that don’t inform their family members that they’re coming back to the Philippines when they return for vacation.  They don’t want to feel saddled with financial responsibilities on their vacations and instead get a hotel room and just hang out with friends, shop, relax and have fun, which is really what a vacation should be all about.

Over time, I’m sure this problem will be remedied through education and experience, but that’s probably a long time in coming.  For now, most Filipinos believe that a person living overseas has plenty of wealth that should be spread around when they come to visit.

My Fish Tanks Are Empty and my Pet Is Abandoned

Like many people, I managed to get hooked into some games on Facebook.  You know the kind.  Cheesy flash games that mostly have no point, purpose, or conclusion.  Their goal is to get you to play as many hours as possible, and eventually to get you to spend real money on the game.  Or in other words, they’re a time-sink and a money waster.

The games that I took to are Zynga games.  They’re pretty polished.  When I first started playing them they really weren’t that bad.  Lately, though, they’re chock full of pop-ups demanding that you ‘share! share! share!’ everything you do.  Not to mention the ‘Become a Fan!’ and ‘Add More Friends!’ pop-ups.  There are so many of these pop-ups that the slight entertainment value is rapidly disappearing.  If you open one of their games and then let it sit for a few minutes, you might come back to a stack of half a dozen pop-ups wanting you to publish things to your Newsfeed or add friends.

Now, in addition to their demands to share nearly every action you perform in the game and they’re incessant demand that you ruthlessly hound your friends into jumping on the bandwagon, they’re trying to get my e-mail address.  Facebook is going to make some change to the way application notifications are handled sometime in the near future.  That’s fine with me.  What’s not fine with me is giving my e-mail address to Zynga.  I still consider my e-mail address to be a pretty private thing.  I have a personal e-mail address, an e-mail address that I tend to use for comment forms, and an e-mail address I use as a contact e-mail for my blog.  They all serve their purposes and have varying degrees of exposure.  The e-mail address I use for Facebook is my personal e-mail address, because these are my personal connections.  I’m not going to allow some Facebook flash game developer to have access to it.  Especially when they have a track record of spamming.

Zynga’s applications, and other players, generate quite a bit of ‘noise’ already in notifications, requests, and my newsfeed.  Why would I want even more ‘noise’ in my e-mail inbox?  As a cheap incentive, most of Zynga’s games are offering special items or bonuses for giving up your e-mail address.  I think my time and privacy is worth more than a special fish or a few extra game coins.  I’ll be keeping my e-mail address to myself Zynga.  Thanks, but no thanks.

In addition to all the noise Zynga games create, they’re big time-sinks.  I realized that I have to give up some of these games if I want to be able to do other things I enjoy, like reading the news, studying, exercising, eating, etc.

So, to that end, I’m putting FishVille and PetVille on the chopping block.  I’ll also be cutting back on the amount of space I use to ‘grow’ crops in FarmVille and the amount of time I invest into it as well.  There are more important things in life than fake fish, a fake pet (I already have two real ones that are a handful), and fake crops.

Hey FishVille! So long, and thanks for all the fish!  In memory of my fish tanks, some screenshots:

The only one that really has me hooked is Cafe World.  I’ve always been a sucker for cooking in games. I even had maxed cooking skill in Final Fantasy XI.  What I like about Cafe World is that it’s possible to get by without having to spend real cash.  What I don’t like about it is the number of pop-ups.  ‘Become a Fan’ it says, when I already am.  ‘Add More Friends’ it demands, when all the friends that want to play the damn thing already are.  It’s going to wear out its welcome soon too, if that keeps up.

Keep pushing the limit Zynga.  If I can quit playing World of Warcraft, don’t think I can’t give you up.

Social Networks and Boundaries

Most people today have multiple social networking profiles.  Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, Twitter, Plurk, blogs, etc.  That makes for a pretty open flow of information, but shouldn’t there be boundaries?

What I mean is, do you open your accounts to anyone that wants to view your content?  For services like Twitter, Plurk and blogs (generally) the whole point is to have transparency and openness in your communication.  It’s to put ideas out there, to share content with other people, and to express yourself.  So, there’s no real reason to put a limit on what people can see.  But in services like MySpace, Friendster, or Facebook I think people are taking the wrong approach.

Once upon a time these services were meant to be mostly private profiles, where your content was shared with people you know by adding them as ‘friends’, or contacts.  Somewhere along the line things went wrong.  I blame MySpace.

During MySpace’s boom people started what I like to call the ‘friend game’.  It didn’t matter if you knew the person or not, you just added them in an attempt to have the highest ‘friend’ count.  To me, the idea is ridiculous.  These particular social networks were made for maintaining existing relationships and creating new relationships with people.  Can you really have meaningful relationships with over 1000 people?  How often do you have time to really ‘speak’ to those people on your social networks?  Between Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk I would say there are 80 people or so that I communicate with regularly and that’s pretty time consuming.  Not to say it’s not worth it, or rewarding, but if having a real relationship with 80 people is time consuming, how do you do it with hundreds or thousands?

You see where I’m going with this?  Once you get beyond a certain point you’re no longer doing it for friends, or for networking with people you actually know.  You’re playing the ‘friend game’.  It’s like an extension of the high school popularity contest mentality.  It’s sad though, because those relationships aren’t meaningful and really don’t mean anything at all.

That being said, I use different social services for different levels of privacy.  I reserve Facebook for my real friends and for my family, extended family and on occasion trusted friends of the family.  I don’t invite just anyone to view what’s in my profile.  It’s private and should stay that way.  My Twitter, Plurk, and blog are open and I post content on those platforms accordingly.

I wonder how other people manage their social profiles?  Do they just invite anyone, or do they think about what they’re sharing and then manage their fans into different platforms depending on how much they want that person to know about them?

Twitter Social Games Are Annoying

Recently I heard of a new social game called Spymaster.  Well, not so much heard of, as much as suffered from.  The game is currently in beta right now, and is something that has been cooked up for Twitter.  I can understand social games on Facebook.  They make sense, because they’re separate and they don’t interfere (too much) with other people’s home pages.  If someone’s updates are annoying you, you can hide the updates from that particular application, to keep your stream from being cluttered.

Spymaster, on the other hand, seems to manage its notifications by posting everything a player does to their Twitter stream.  Yes, everything.  The problem with that is that on Twitter, you either follow someone or you don’t.  There’s no way to hide particular Tweets.  So, if you start putting out a lot of spam you give people two choices, put up with it or un-follow you.  I’m leaning towards the latter.  It’s hard enough to sort through all of the Tweets I get already, without having to scan through crap like “I just did damage to @XXXXX in an attempted assassination attempt!”

Twitter is all about providing useful information to your friends, either in the form of status updates, witty sayings, links, images, video… well you get the picture.  In other words, no one is following you on Twitter to read your spam messages from a social game.  I mean, who really cares?  Other than yourself of course?

I don’t see Twitter games that spam people’s streams becoming overly popular, but if they do, I hope to God that people are smart enough to create a separate account for it.  One last thing I’d like to say is, isn’t Twitter already suffering under the current load?  Is it really smart to try to build a social game that sends a lot of Tweets when the platform is already regularly overloaded?